During a recent appearance on the New York Post Sports Podcast with Jon Heyman and Joel Sherman, Detroit Tigers manager A.J. Hinch discussed how he plans on fielding the hot corner in 2024.
"I think that in some ways we have to get away from the thought that every single position has to have the born and bred player right there, right now and leave some optionality for things to emerge. Andy Ibanez is an example. If you look at what he did after June last year, specifically against left-handed pitching, he was a bona fide player that I could play against every lefty whenever we wanted. Zach McKinstry is gonna get some time over there as a left-handed utility player. He’ll move around the field. There was a stretch in time where he handled right-handed pitching, so that sets up a natural platoon for just those two (referring to Ibanez and McKinstry)."- A.J. Hinch
He mentioned Matt Vierling, Colt Keith, and Jace Jung as options, with Jung likely the Opening Day third baseman at Toledo. Hinch often employs platoons and values versatility in players, a strategy that underscores the adage, "necessity is the mother of invention," particularly for third. The Tigers finished 27th in fWAR at -1.0 as far as production at third last season and led the league in errors with 27.
Surprisingly, Hinch did not mention Justyn-Henry Malloy, who started most games at third base during the last month and a half in Toledo. This omission suggests Henry-Malloy might be considered for left field or somewhere else.
So it got me thinking about recent production at the position. I investigated whether there's a causal relationship between the number of third basemen a team employs during a season and its overall performance. Specifically, I looked into the Detroit Tigers' usage of third basemen since 2019, comparing it with the league average and correlating these figures with Detroit's fWAR over the last five seasons.
# of 3rd baseman used by Detroit
Admittedly, this analysis isn't precise. Some teams, like the 2022 Rays, exceeded the league average by employing seven third basemen and still achieved a notable 6.1 fWAR. For seasoned Tigers fans, this scenario might evoke a sense of déjà vu. Back in 1987, Detroit utilized 10 third basemen, double the league average of five, yet ended the season with a -1.4 fWAR and still managed to clinch the AL East despite finishing last in other metrics.
This strategy isn't about bringing in Matt Chapman or employing another veteran as a temporary solution. The Detroit Tigers have ample internal options to explore. The 2024 season presents an ideal chance for the team to secure consistent and reliable production at third base.
On the flip side, if Detroit fails to find that steady and consistent third base production from within their ranks in 2024, it might force their hand to seek solutions beyond the organization. I can already picture the Tigers fan base starting to chant, “Go get Alex Bregman.”
Follow on me on "X" at rogcastbaseball.